Steven Cokeng — What I Learnt in the Monastery

I was first invited by one of our family friends, Lolita Lutanco, to join a meditation class in Ocean Sky Chan Monastery in 2004. I was then 20 years old, and wanted very much to study Chinese culture and practices, like kung fu, qigong, wushu and the like. Knowing that there would be monks in the temple, I was very excited to take a glimpse. Upon checking it out, the volunteers of Ocean Sky informed me that they were only offering meditation classes, which was perfectly fine with me since I really wanted to be involved in activities related to Chinese culture.

When I started my first meditation class, I found out that the monks were also teaching Buddhism as part of the curriculum. I was a college student back then, and had a lot of spare time; so I was able to quickly complete the beginners’ class followed by the intermediate class, then the advance class, and finally the sutra classes. I have also decided to repeat the classes once I was done with the levels. I really don’t know what kept me going to study in all those classes repeatedly. All I can say is I am really happy that I have completed them all.

In the process, I learned a lot of Buddhist teachings like the Four Noble Truths, Eight Fold Path, Twelve-fold Causal Chain, Six Paramitas, the Heart Sutra, the Sutra of the Eight Realizations of Great Beings, and the Surangama Sutra. I also understood the true meaning behind the putting up and burning of yellow and red tablets as part of our offerings. There are also many teachings that can help improve the way we think and act in our daily lives, which greatly enhance our personality in order to achieve our goals in life.

One of the basic teachings I can share is the law of causality. The logical equation goes like this: Cause + Condition = Effect. This means that for an effect to occur, it needs both causes and conditions to be present to get what you want. For example, I wanted to study Chinese culture, but there were no schools that taught meditation. So how could I learn then? I had the cause in mind to study, but no condition or no school for me to enroll in. In the end, it took a long time before I was able to study meditation and Buddhism.

I am really thankful for what Ocean Sky has taught me through the years. As a sign of gratitude, I make it to a point to help out in the monastery. Currently, I volunteer as an acolyte and work to make sure things go well during ceremonies. I am also responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of the Chan Hall. By helping out in the monastery, I realized that there is actually plenty of work to be done in order to complete a single ceremony. A lot of preparations are needed like putting up the liturgy stands, preparing the censers and the tablet stands, arranging the tablets, arranging the meditation mats and many more things.

In helping out at the monastery, I realized I am applying what I’ve learned from the meditation classes. When working with fellow volunteers, I soon notice other people’s shortcomings. With this, I can cultivate by accepting their faults, and have longer patience. I not only learned tolerance but soon, I became a team player, and worked well together to accomplish everyone’s goal, which is to help the monastery and let more people learn about Buddhism.

Lastly, let me share with you my favorite quotation regarding how one should regard his past, present and future: “If you want to know your past, look at who you are now. If you want to know your future, look at what you are doing now.”

Mary Tan — Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts

Early on, I had heard a Dharma Master explain the contents of the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts; I refused to take them earlier for fear I might break them and fall into the evil destinies. But in 2008, in support of a friend who wanted to receive the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts, the two of us went to Chung Tai.

For me, receiving the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts is a blessing, and an important event. As one of the Sutras states: “When sentient beings receive the Buddhist precepts, they ascend to the Buddha’s level; reaching this level of great enlightenment is truly becoming Buddha’s disciple.” On the path to enlightenment, taking the Precepts sows the correct causes for Buddhahood; each succeeding lifetime will lead to becoming a Buddha. On the way to Bodhi, remember the reminders set by the three aspects of the pure precepts; always cease evil and cultivate good, and enlighten sentient beings. Only in the future can one reap the pure and bright merits of the Precepts, forever be liberated, and attain the level of the Buddha.

I am still a beginner on the bodhisattva path, and still have many things to improve on. Before receiving the Precepts, I was never vigilant, always giving rise to evil thoughts and doing evil actions, never detecting my faults. Now that I am constantly reminded of the Precepts, I can now repent for my wrong actions right away. In this way, I slowly attain clarity and pureness of mind and increase my good affinity and karma, allowing me to move forward bravely on the bodhisattva path.

Sally Sy — I Am Happier and More At Peace

When I first stepped into Ocean Sky Chan Monastery many years ago, the first Abbot then convinced me to attend the meditation classes. Out of curiosity, I attended the class without expecting anything in particular.

At that time, I faced many challenges in my life; challenges that came one after the other. Some were just incredibly painful that I could not accept what was happening. I became so disappointed and angry, and eventually, my health gave way and I ended up with a life threatening disease.

Although I have been here for a long time, it took me a while before I actually started to reflect on the teachings of Buddhism and apply them to my life. From Abbess Master Jianshu’s Dharma talks, I have developed a deeper understanding of Buddhism. Now I have learned to let go, accept the flow of events, and face reality. Ever since I learned that everything is conditional, I am no longer emotionally affected by external events. I feel more open-minded, and try to look at things from different perspectives. I am more aware of my “self-nature.”

Besides this, I try to be more aware of cause and effect. I try to be as tolerant as possible—when I see people doing bad deeds and accumulating bad karma, I feel compassion instead of frustration. This reminds me to not only avoid committing the same mistake as them, but to improve myself as much as possible. Whenever I think of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” I ask myself, “Others may go to hell; do I also want to go with them?” Whenever I feel a negative thought about to rise, I try to change it into a positive thought, or at least a neutral one.

As a result of all these, my anger has diminished, and I am more in control of myself. I am happier and more at peace, and my health has improved a lot. I have realized that all the things I have lost, tangible or intangible, are “impermanent.” As a result, I am gradually regaining my original peace and bliss.

My Dharma name is Chuan Man (傳滿). It means fullness; abundance; completeness. I had been man-man (滿滿, full and complete) all my life, but I was not aware of it. Because of my newfound awareness, I have also begun to realize that aside from being “man-man” (full) in the worldly sense; I also possess the inherent Buddha Nature in me.

Marita Yu — Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts

Upon much encouragement and prodding from former Abbess Master Jianding, I took the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts in Chung Tai in October of 2011.

Originally, I was awed and apprehensive. I thought how could a person as old as I was, with many deeply rooted bad habits, dare be a bodhisattva? But Jianding Shifu corrected my thinking. She said that a disciple of Buddha should follow in his footsteps, and learn from his great vow of compassion. She added that after taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts, a person will be even more ready to detect the three poisons in his/her mind— greed, anger, and ignorance. After much thought and finally deciding that knowledge and practice have to go hand in hand, I sent my application.

Initially, however, from among the group of applicants from the Philippines, only my application was rejected. Master Jianding advised me to pray and make vows everyday. I was puzzled and bewildered by this turn of events. Did this mean I was not determined enough? Did I still have doubts? But I still followed Shifu’s advice; I prayed before Buddha, and made vows. Finally, my application was accepted. Shifu said I shouldn’t stop, but should still continue to make vows everyday, so that this mind that vowed to support the Dharma, shall never regress.

In Chung Tai, I was so moved when I saw so many foreign and local seekers of Lay Bodhisattva Precepts, who were all truly earnest in wanting to follow in the Buddha’s Path to nirvana. What was most unforgettable was the ceremony when we “offer our flesh/body to Buddha” by letting it be burned with incense. Many people were frightened, as I was. But when the crucial moment came, I was able to conquer my self-attachment and extended my arm wholeheartedly. From the first to the third burning, I literally felt the great vow of compassion of Buddha, he who fed the eagle with his limb. What then is this little pain compared to that!

Lay Bodhisattva preceptees serve as models for others to emulate; we should at all times contemplate the actions of our body, speech, and mind. However, bad habits are difficult to eradicate. But by being mindful of my speech and actions, even when a transgression is committed, I know that I should repent and reform; letting go of self-attachment, I should be humble and gentle. Most important is to be vegetarian, and adapt the “Four Tenets of Chung Tai” in my daily life. Furthermore, I should continue to make great vows, “to seek the Buddha Path, and to liberate all sentient beings.” By practicing the bodhisattva way, I can eventually attain Buddhahood.

In times of adversity, however, I still find it hard to completely let go. Now I know that I must first learn to let go; only after that can I benefit myself while helping others. This is a point that I have to work on.

As for the other trivial irritations in daily life, they have become minor happenings for me. I just have to be tolerant, and look from the other person’s point of view, then I will naturally become relaxed and flexible. But I still have to work on my mind of compassion.

Abbess Master Jianshu often teaches us in class that it is because our mind is filled with the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance, plus attachments and bad habits, that we need to take the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts. If we are so perfect, then we might as well be the Buddha! I now know that taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts is the true path to take for Buddha’s disciples.

I now have to acknowledge and repay the compassion and kindness of the Three Jewels with diligent practice so that we can uplift ourselves!

Raceli Domingo — Tremendous Appreciation

More than two years into meditation, I have tremendous appreciation for its fruits—in terms of health, sharpness, stillness of mind, and balanced emotions. There were moments when my patience was put to the test, but thankfully I had awareness, so I came out level headed.

From the time I learned and took meditation by heart, I converted all my activities as meditation exercises that sometimes I was amazed how I managed to do more than I expected. My smiles have always been genuine. Through the years I have been like this, regardless of my life’s circumstances. I could always feel that a pure kind of divine joy is being poured into my Being that brings a more serene smile on my lips.

I hope, pray and look forward to experiencing Samadhi, all the days of my life.

Ocean Sky, through the kind invitation of the former Abbess Jianding, also gave me the opportunity to nurture the minds of little children. I am so touched, deeply humbled and so grateful for the opportunity and trust bestowed upon me and my son. I take this task by heart and very seriously, knowing that we are molding the personality and establishing the mindset of a future generation.

Thus, I meticulously prepare the games and lessons assigned to me because I want to give the children the maximum benefit they could get from the Bodhi Star classes. It does not matter if they understood it today or not, what I know is that the Bodhi seeds are planted in their minds and someday, somehow, when the conditions are ripe, these will blossom and bear fruits.

I strongly believe and uphold the values being taught in Ocean Sky, which are founded on the 10 Virtues of the Bodhi Stars—Respect, Compassion, Harmony, Sincerity, Faith, Diligence, Meditation, Wisdom, Thankfulness and Bodhi. If all can honestly and truthfully cultivate these virtues, regardless of age, this world will indeed be a better place to live in.

From the bottom of my heart, I earnestly thank Grand Master Wei Chueh for planting the Bodhi seed in the Philippines, the Abbess and all the Masters of Ocean Sky for the genuine love, devotion, compassion and guidance to enlighten and awaken the laity to take on the Bodhi Path, and most importantly for believing strongly in the Buddha Nature in each one of us. AMITOFO!

Mari-Len Inoncillo — Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts

As a practicing Buddhist, it is not easy to apply the Five Precepts in our daily lives; how much more to take its formal vow!

Upon learning from the Dharma Masters that taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts is a great opportunity to amend past mistakes, I was convinced. On their part, they assured me of their support, to encourage me and sustain my vow. So, off to Chung Tai we went to take it.

During the ceremony, as a profound symbol of our vows, three cone-shaped incenses were burnt on our upper forearm; it symbolizes how the body was the censer, and the Precepts, the fragrant offering of incense.

In preparation, we were immersed in real-life examples of the practice of Lay Bodhisattva Precepts; we experienced the monastic life, practiced compassion and tolerance, discarded all our possessions and released all our attachments. The discipline included a certain way of thinking and acting. Having nothing, I realized that I only have myself to offer Buddha.

The mere thought of being burnt scared me, but I found strength in knowing that I was making a supreme offering of myself. Surprisingly, there was no pain and I was overflowing with joy and became teary-eyed.

Coming home, I was a changed person. I knew the challenges that await me outside the monastery wall, but compassion and tolerance are the keys. Becoming vegetarian while other members of the household were not, also posed a test of will power and perseverance. Thus, I cook my own food or run to Ocean Sky.

That was a year ago, and now I am in a happier state than ever before, knowing that my vows kept me from harming other sentient beings. Taking the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts entails great responsibilities, but I intend to uphold them forever. Receiving it was a privilege; I knew in my mind that I was making the ultimate offering to the Buddha and to all sentient beings.